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7Q                                                                        .                                    B. POLEVOI
Alexei saw many things in this forest habitation that
greatly astonished him. The Germans had robbed the
inhabitants of Plavni of their homes, their belongings,
their farm implements, cattle, domestic utensils and
clothing, of everything that had been acquired by the
toil of generations, and at present the people were living
in the forest in great distress, in constant danger that the
Germans would discover them. They starved and suffered
from the cold—but the collective farm did not fall to
pieces; on the contrary, the great disaster of the war had
welded the people closer together. They even made the
dugouts collectively and moved into them, not haphazard-
ly, but according to the teams they had worked in on the
farm. When his son-in-law was killed, Grandad Mikhail
took over the duties of collective-farm chairman, and in
the forest he sacredly adhered to all the collective-farm
customs. And now, under his direction, the cave village,
deep in the virgin forest, was preparing for the spring in
brigades and teams.
Though starving, the peasant women brought to the
common dugout all the grain they had managed to save
when they had fled from their village—all, to the last
seed. The greatest care was taken of the calves born
from the cows that had been saved from the Germans.
These people starved, but they did not slaughter the
collectively-owned cattle. At the risk of their lives, the
boys of the village went to the old, gutted village and,
rummaging among the ash heaps, found plough-shares,
turned blue by the heat. These they brought to the under-
ground village and put wooden handles on those best fit
for use. Out of sacking the women made yokes to har-
ness the cows for the spring ploughing. The women's
teams had taken turns to catch fish in the lake and
had thus provided food for the whole village in the
winter.
Although Grandad Mikhail grumbled and growled at
"his women" and put his hands to his ears when they
indulged in long and angry quarrels in his dugout about
some matter connected with the collective farm, the
import of which was unintelligible to Alexei, and
although, when driven out of patience, he bawled at them
in his high, falsetto voice, he appreciated their worth